The Way Piggly Wiggly Was A Pioneer In The Grocery Store Industry

If you grew up in the South or the Midwest, there is a good chance you recognize the image of a chubby-cheeked pink pig donning a jaunty white grocer's cap. The friendly farm animal serves as the mascot for Piggly Wiggly, a successful chain of grocery stores that operates in 19 states throughout parts of the U.S., according to ScrapeHero. But Piggly Wiggly isn't just a successful modern-day grocery chain — it was a true pioneer of the entire grocery store industry.

The first Piggly Wiggly was opened by a businessman named Clarence Saunders, who had previously achieved success in wholesaling as a salesman and later a consultant, per Mental Floss. In 1916, Saunders turned his attention to the business of grocery shopping. Up until then, grocery stores had always been operated by grocery clerks, who would collect the items their customers wanted from a list, while they waited behind the counter for their orders to be gathered and tallied. However, Saunders concluded this method was inefficient, not to mention a waste of time, money, and labor, per Piggly Wiggly. So he decided to turn the entire grocery store industry on its head.

Piggly Wiggly was the first self-service grocery store

When Saunders opened up Piggly Wiggly in 1916, he welcomed customers with a brass band, flowers and balloons for the children, and "five and ten dollar gold coins to every woman, while the supply lasted," according to Mike Freeman of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, via Smithsonian Magazine.

But customers were in for a bit of a surprise when they walked through the front door. Rather than placing their orders with clerks, customers could wander amongst the store's inventory, selecting their own merchandise before bringing it up to the front to pay at the checkout stand, per Smithsonian Magazine. Piggly Wiggly also offered pre-measured, pre-bagged versions of dry goods like sugar and flour, which in the past would have been weighed out by grocery clerks, according to Mental Floss. At the end of their shopping experience, customers would receive a printed receipt — another first for the grocery store industry. The new self-serve concept was a hit. By the end of the year, nine more Piggly Wiggly locations had opened up in the Memphis area, says Smithsonian Magazine.

Piggly Wiggly introduced a number of firsts to the grocery store industry

Piggly Wiggly didn't just introduce self-service to grocery shoppers everywhere, it revolutionized the entire grocery store experience. When it first opened, Piggly Wiggly also did away with credit. At small neighborhood grocery shops, grocers would often let their regulars purchase items on credit if they happened to be short. Piggly Wiggly, which was cash only, did no such thing, per The Tennessean.

Piggly Wiggly was also the first shop to display price tags on all of its products, allowing customers to compare the value of different brands and creating a standardized pricing experience. Under the old grocery store model, the costs of each item were held inside the clerk's head, often leading to an inconsistent and even sometimes biased pricing system, according to Mental Floss. Not only were customers at Piggly Wiggly able to shop for themselves, but it was also the first company to add checkout stands, sell full lineups of different brand names, standardize uniforms for their employees, and even store fresh produce in refrigerated cases, according to Piggly Wiggly. So the next time you are pushing your cart around your favorite grocery store, selecting your favorite brands to be rung up at the register, you have Saunders' revolutionary vision to thank.